Frances Kanenbrand first decided to make aliyah as a child in Sierpe, the Polish town where she was raised in a Zionist family.
This week she finally became an olah chadasha, a new immigrant in Israel, eight decades after she started dreaming about life in the Promised Land, 61 years after she almost made the trip on the Exodus. In July 1947 she was among 4,515 passengers — mostly Holocaust survivors, as she was — on the converted steamer officially known as Exodus 1947.
On Monday, Frances Greenberg — her married name — was at 88 the oldest member of group of 210 soon-to-be-Israelis on an El Al flight from JFK Airport sponsored by the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah organization.
“I have mixed feelings,” she told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview from the car of her son, Alan, who was driving her to JFK. She was leaving behind her home and old friends in Pittsburgh, where she lived for 59 years. “It’s hard to say goodbye.”
In Israel, where she was to be met at Ben-Gurion Airport by her other child, Ilana, she will live in an independent living facility in Raanana, near Ilana’s home in Kfar Saba.
She shipped over a few personal belongings. “I’m starting over,” she said.
Greenberg spent World War II in a Siberian work camp; the rest of her family, back in Sierpe, perished.
Greenberg is “dynamic,” says Charley Levine, a Nefesh B’Nefesh spokesperson. “She’s definitely one of our oldest olim so far. Aliyah is about being the dream of a lifetime — that can be true at age 10 or at age 96.”
Greenberg’s husband Isak, whom she met in a displaced persons camp and who didn’t want to settle in Israel, died a year ago. They came to Pittsburgh, where a sister of Isak lived. “My husband knew that after he died, I would go” to Israel, she said.
Isak, a tailor, promised his bride that they could visit Israel once they saved $1,000. He kept his word, in 1955. Over the years Greenberg went back several times.
Some of her friends in Pittsburgh had been on the Exodus, too. The British Navy, which wouldn’t let the ship dock in Israel, turned the passengers back to Hamburg, Germany.
The time on the Mediterranean was “very tiring, very exhausting,” Greenberg said. But it was worthwhile — “it made the world aware that the Jews needed a homeland.”
In Pittsburgh, she raised her children with the same Zionist spirit that permeated her home in Poland.
Ilana made aliyah 36 years ago. Mother asked daughter then why she had to move so far away. “Mom,” Ilana answered, “that’s the way you brought me up.”